Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Savoring summer and a simple sorbet

What does this new word stay-cation really mean?

According to Martin J. Smith, Editor-in-Chief of our local Orange Coast Magazine, it is “Opening our eyes to familiar beauty, appreciating the graciousness that surrounds us every day.”

Teddy and I are heeding his advice this summer and staying home to savor the bounty of our hometown of Corona del Mar.

Here is last night’s sunset seen from our patio:

And this morning during our breakfast

a surprise rainbow appeared out of nowhere

though there wasn’t the slightest sign of rain

Our farmer’s market on the campus of the University of California Irvine (UCI)

is offering something entirely new--luscious Japanese Kyo Ho grapes.

And the new “A” Market on Pacific Coast Highway was featuring Cypress Grive “Purple Haze” goat cheese flavored with lavender and fennel pollen. So I invited my friend Adrian over for tea. And, what did she bring me but a fragrant, flowering lavender plant!

I also got to meet Hamlet, my friend Kimberly’s pot-bellied pig for the first time and have lunch with him. Hamlet Pig has his own FaceBook page.

All of this within the past 24-hours!

And tomorrow night we’ll go to the Orange County Fair. We love blending into the huge crowds of people experiencing the pure enjoyment of of a warm summer evening.

We get high on the colors, the lights, the kids' screams coming from the rides, and pigging out (no offense, Hamlet!) on crazy foods like Krispy Kreme chicken sandwiches and corn dogs.

In the words of the poet Hafiz:


Do not

Want to step so quickly

Over this sacred place on God's body

That is right beneath your

Own foot

As I

Dance with

Precious life



I’m serving only the simplest and lowest calorie desserts in August. This one takes less than five minutes to make and really wows my guests.

For four servings

102 calories per serving

1 pound (1 package) frozen pitted sweet black cherries (available in most supermarkets)

¼ cup fresh orange juice (Use a zester to remove some of the rind before squeezing)

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Sprigs of fresh mint to garnish

Combine the ingredients, except mint sprigs in the bowl of an electric food processor fitted with the steel blade. (Sorry, this cannot be made in most blenders!)

Process to a smooth puree, stopping the motor from time to time to push the mixture into the blade with a rubber spatula. As soon as the mixture is smooth, spoon it into serving dishes. Garnish with mint and serve immediately.

To prepare in advance: Make this one hour of serving. If not serving immediately, store it in the freezer in the serving dishes for up to, but not longer than, one hour. If frozen longer it solidifies.

Be careful what you wish for!

When I was a child, I actually had no idea that we had to pay for food in restaurants. I assumed those expansive and generous beings who seemed delighted to bring us whatever we wanted must be some kind of angels. They dazzled me!

So, naturally, when someone asked me at age five what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “Either a waitress or a movie star!”

While other girls played with dolls, I had two favorite solitary games. Making up recipes and writing them on index cards to put in a recipe box like my Mom’s, and playing "short order cook." I separated my bedroom and my small dressing room with a book shelf I pretended was a counter. I would stand at pretend tables and take down orders on an order pad I bought with my allowance at the dime store. Slapping the order on the counter, I would vanish behind the counter and become the short order cook. Truly, I never tired of this game.

My parents were early foodies and shared a curiosity about dining experiences. On Sunday drives or summer vacations our destinations were always restaurants such as Philippe’s French Dip sandwiches in downtown Los Angeles, the Original Pancake House in Portland, Oregon, and Anderson’s Split Pea Soup in Buellton, California.

Their tenacity in tracking down tantalizing tastes had a tremendous influence on who I would become professionally.

Years later when my late husband and I hosted our own television cooking series it occurred to me I had indeed become a movie star/waitress.

Be careful what you wish for!


For 12 leaves

Because I love to be dazzled and to dazzle others, my specialty has become making simple things that people notice and remember. So it is with these easy chocolate leaves . . .

Heat about 2 ounces of chopped chocolate of your choice in the top of a double boiler, stirring just until completely melted. Remove the top portion of the pan set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Use a table knife to spread the chocolate thickly over the backs of clean, fresh citrus or camellia leaves.

Place on wax paper, chocolate side up, in the refrigerator until the chocolate has hardened. Carefully pull the real leaves away from the chocolate ones. (See illustration.)

Use the leaves as surprise toppings for ice cream and just about any chocolate dessert.

To prepare in advance: Chocolate leaves will keep in the refrigerator or freezer if they are carefully wiped of surface moisture that could cause white spots. They are great to have on hand for dressing up simple desserts and needn’t be thawed before serving.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Real Deal

What shall I do to make tonight's party truly enjoyable?
I asked myself yesterday morning.

I was preparing a dinner for a cherished friend and her family who will be moving to another state next month. Her son-in-law, who I would meet for the first time, loves to cook, so he would be arriving early to be my sous chef and learn some cooking techniques.

As I was setting the table I noticed I was becoming a bit obsessed, wanting it all to be "perfect," an impossible goal, so I paused.

Asking a question then waiting in a state of openness for an Aha! or insight, has become a trusted process. Soon I sensed the answer: Relax, be present, be real. Focus on creating good feelings and it will be perfect no matter how it turns out.

My confusion cleared. Remembering a huge chunk of Parmesan cheese on hand, I decided the appetizer should be Fricos, those crispy cheese appetizer wafers made by simply spreading small circles of grated cheese and topping with fresh herb leaves on a parchment paper covered baking sheet, then baking at 350 degrees until lightly browned and bubbling. When they have completely cooled they become crisp and crunchy. Everyone loves them and loves getting involved in gathering herb flowers in my garden to create their own.

Or, I could simply demonstrate wrapping some proscuitto around grissini breadsticks to serve next to the cheese.

My parmesan of choice is Parmigiano-Reggiano, the very best, and most imitated imported brand named after the areas of Parma and Reggio Emilia in Emilia-Romagna, Italy where it is produced. Its name is stamped on the rind and its slightly salty, piquant flavor, makes it one of the best cheeses for enjoying alone and for seasoning recipes.

Ever noticed those tiny crunchy crystals in the hard, strong-flavored grating cheeses classified in Italy as grana? The word refers to those tiny crystals suspended in the cheese. Those are not salt crystals but crystals of the enzyme tyrosine that occur due to long maturation, a quality imitation Parmesan just doesn't have. Since true Parmigiano-Reggiano is available almost everywhere, even at Costco--No faux parmesan for me!

Among the most astonishing recipes from one of my books, and one I decided to add to the menu is a Parsley Salad enthusiastically shared with me by the late James Beard when I attended his classes in his home town of Seaside, Oregon, many years ago. Guests never stop raving about it and it stands up well without wilting. Thank you, James Beard! (He was the real deal too.)

The salad was a big hit. I served a Halibut Saltimbocca that I have yet to share with you, and the amazing Raspberry Chocolate Souffles from an earlier blog. The menu was simple and seasonal and sensational.

Best of all were all the good feelings of a relaxed hostess and her friends having fun preparing and sharing a delicious meal.



For 5 or 6 servings

This salad that doesn’t sound special but it is—very!

Serve it in very small portions on overlapping thin slices of ripe heirloom tomatoes as a first course. Made in larger quantities and heaped in a bowl on a buffet, it will create a sensation!

4 cups curly parsley, leaves only, washed and dried (depending on size, 1 to 2 bunches)

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons finest quality red wine vinegar

1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Note: I use a food processor, either large or mini, to "grate" Parmesan just before I add it to a recipe. Cut the cheese into ½ inch cubes and chop them finely with the steel blade rather than with the grating disc, which will break when a hard cheese is pressed too vigorously against it.

Place the parsley leaves in a bowl. Combine the garlic, olive oil and vinegar in a blender container, and process until garlic is pureed. Pour enough of the dressing over the parsley to coat it evenly and toss lightly. Sprinkle the grated cheese over and toss well to distribute the cheese evenly and coat every leaf with dressing and cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To prepare in advance: This is best freshly made at room temperature, but keeps quite well in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summer’s Bounty

My kitchen has been overflowing with heartfelt connection lately.

I find nothing more fulfilling than spending a late morning with with a close friend stirring up something seasonally delicious for lunch.

Sometimes we even discuss the big questions in life as we share our favorite recipes.

Three years ago, for instance, my friend Deb was wondering “Can a CEO of a Fortune 100 company change out of her power suit and into some comfy sweats and learn to write a novel?” Now we know the answer is yes, for she is here today to hear my truthful feedback about the very polished 350 pages she emailed into my Kindle a few weeks ago. She knows she can count on me for honesty, for that is how deep friendships are forged.

As we rinse and hull some strawberries and pat crumbs into a pie pan I tell her there are only two words in the whole manuscript that don’t work for me. I’m beaming with pride in both her writing and her ability to reinvent herself. My sincere raving is balm to her soul.

Sometimes, of course, our conversations are less celebratory and more about weathering life's changes, but they are always deeply comforting.

And, look how stunning our pie turned out to be! So quick and easy to make, the beauty of it creates such excitement in guests that I can’t stop making it. Three pies in three days!

Another friend, Trish, so loved the pie I made for her party last evening she filled my arms with these hydrangeas from her garden.

Sharing food and friendship is as good as it gets!


For six servings

We used a fluted spring-form pan for the pie in the photo because it makes the pie easy to cut and serve once the side of the pan is removed. The plate is garnished with a nasturtium and a rose geranium leaf.

4 boxes (2 quarts) medium size strawberries

¾ cup sugar

2½ tablespoons cornstarch

½ cup water

Juice of ½ lemon

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs

¼ cup sugar

5 tablespoons butter, melted

Whipped cream for serving

Rinse and hull the strawberries. In a mixing bowl, mash about one box (one-fourth) of the berries (I use a sturdy pastry cutter for this). Set aside the whole berries.

In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Whisk in the water, lemon juice and crushed berries and cook over medium heat until the mixture has thickened. Let cool.

Meanwhile, make the crust. Stir together the crumbs, sugar and butter and press evenly into the bottom and sides of a 9- or 10-inch pie dish. Bake in the center of a 350-degree oven for 8 minutes to firm it and make it sturdy and easy to serve. Let cool slightly.

Now, add the whole berries to the strawberry sauce, coating them evenly. Arrange, tops up, in the crust. One even layer of strawberries makes this easiest to cut into slices. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

TO PREPARE IN ADVANCE: The crust may be made a day or two ahead. Store it in a plastic bag at room temperature. Make the strawberry filling the day of serving.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cultivating Pleasure

Have you ever dreamed of walking out your kitchen door to pick fresh herbs straight from the garden? Of not having to run to the market to make a new recipe, or opening the fridge door to find sadly drooping herbs?

Wouldn’t it be enormously satisfying to simply turn any average meal into a colorful gourmet delight?

My patio herb garden is alive and thriving though I’m not much of a gardener. I am bathed in the fragrances of tarragon, mint, basil, sage, chives and lemon verbena, oregano, rosemary and cilantro every summer morning when I step out on our patio to watch Ted spread birdseed along our wall so we will have feathered company.

All my varieties of thyme are not only thriving, but flowering and begging to be picked and enjoyed! Summer is the season I do the most harvesting because all herb flowers are edible and make the most exquisite garnishes.

Here is a photo from my favorite restaurant, The HerbFarm near Seattle. It is their oven-roasted salmon atop a lemon-thyme butter sauce surrounded by all kinds of herb flowers. The chef suggested we taste a different herb with every bite. Heaven! I duplicate this dish often now that wild sockeye salmon is in season from the book The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor by Jerry Traunfeld (William Morrow, 2005)

(One guest was so enamored of the flavors she asked if she could literally lick her plate!)

Later today, I will pay a weekly visit to my basil to pinch off the tips that are beginning to flower so it will grow even bushier. I’ll carry packages of seeds in my pocket—cilantro, chervil and dill—and every time I clip some to use, I’ll make a little hole with my finger nearby and pour in some seeds, pat the ground level and water lightly, so my crop will continue regenerating.

It has taken many seasons of setting out plants and inserting seeds to discover where each herb feels most at home and flourishes. Investing just a small amount of time and nurturing has paid off with such an abundance I even make bouquets of herbs, tie them with ribbon, and take them along as gifts when I visit friends. Pictured here are basil, lavender, mint, garlic chive blossoms, nasturtiums, savory and thyme flowers and tarragon.

Tending a summer herb garden—so full of color and flavor and fragrance—cultivates all our senses. Like many joys of life—worth the labor.


Always served with menus, is the Herbfarm Salad, a green salad made with up to 30 ingredients, each literally harvested and assembled on the plate one leaf a time – a delicious work of art. (The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld features a chart listing 50 possible choices.)

Here is my adapted version of the recipe for the perfect dressing:

For one generous cup

¼ cup aged sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped shallot

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

¾ cup mild extra-virgin olive oil

Fresh herbs to blend into the dressing: 1 to 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped English or lemon thyme, lovage, mint, oregano, marjoram, or French tarragon; 2 to 4 tablespoons coarsely chopped basil, dill, chervil, or chives.

Puree all ingredients except oil and herbs in a blender or food processor. With the machine running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream. Whisk in fresh herbs.

TO PREPARE IN ADVANCE: If not using within a few hours, store tightly covered in the refrigerator; it will keep for several weeks. Bring to room temperature and shake or whisk it well before you dress the salad.